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Tax Tips for Homeowners

Tax Tips for Homeowners It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again-tax time! This is my annual column about tax deductions for homeowners so if you are a procrastinator and have not yet completed your taxes, here are some deductions you can use. Let me start by saying that you should always check with your accountant or tax preparer to make sure you can use these deductions as everyone’s tax situation is different. I am just giving you the information on what deductions may be available to you. If you have a mortgage on your primary residence you may be able to deduct the interest portion of your mortgage payments. This can amount to a very large deduction for most people and is one of the benefits of being a homeowner. In most cases, you can also deduct your property taxes. Again, if you own a home in Freeport or Stephenson County your property taxes are a significant tax deduction. Both of these deductions are being debated in Washington as part of income tax reform but for this year, you can still deduct them from your taxes. If you purchased a new home in 2016, you may also be able to deduct your origination fee and any discount points you may have paid. Check with your tax preparer to see if you can qualify for these deductions. Also, if you have a home improvement loan or home equity line of credit (also known as HELOC) the interest on those payments may also be tax deductible. Making your home more energy efficient may also provide you with some tax deductions. Installing...

What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

Back in September of 2014 I wrote a column about radon. At that time, most people had never heard of radon unless they had bought or sold a home recently and were asked if they wanted a radon test done. Even then, most people didn’t really know what the big deal was. I recently attended a training session on radon and even though I knew what radon was and the potential health threat it caused, I was surprised at how much I had under-estimated the dangers of radon. What is radon anyway? Radon is a colorless, tasteless, odorless radioactive gas that comes from uranium in the soil. Radon enters your home through openings between your house and the soil underneath. It doesn’t matter if you have a basement, a crawl space or even a concrete slab, the only way to tell if you have a radon problem in your home is to test for it. Why should you worry about testing your home for radon? Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It is estimated that over 1100 people in Illinois will develop radon related lung cancer every year. Elevated levels of radon have been found throughout Illinois and we are located in the “high potential” area of the state. Think about how much time you spend in your home, how much time your children spend in your home and the possibility that the radon level in your home could potentially be causing cancer. I can’t urge you strongly enough to get your home tested. What you don’t know can be killing you. Homeowners can...

Get To Know HomeStart

It is the beginning of a new year and many people are setting goals for 2017. If your goal is to become a homeowner in 2017, I want to let you know about an organization that might be able to help. HomeStart is a HUD approved non-profit housing counseling organization located right here in downtown Freeport. It just might be the best kept secret in town! HomeStart is part of the National NeighborWorks Network and they work with people to help them attain their housing goals. They accomplish this in two ways. They help people become homeowners by providing support, guidance and education about the home buying process. HomeStart also helps connect people to down payment assistance for those that qualify. Since the organization merged in 2013, they have assisted almost 700 first –time homeowners achieve the Great American Dream. Studies have shown that people who receive homebuyer counseling and education are statistically more successful than those who don’t. HomeStart also helps people with sustainable home ownership when there is a foreclosure pending. They have several options available in this situation, the newest being the Illinois Hardest Hit Program. This program focuses on home owners that have lost income through no fault of their own such as unemployment, underemployment, death of a spouse or divorce. If you are eligible and have not received these funds in the past, the program provides funding for mortgage assistance to help people keep their homes. HomeStart is a sponsoring organization and helps with completing and submitting applications for assistance. HomeStart also assists people with accessing the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) rural...

Preparing Your Home For Winter

We have had the luxury of enjoying a very long fall this year but it is December and winter is here. If you haven’t already winter-proofed your home, here are somethings to do to keep your home safe and comfortable throughout the winter. Starting with the exterior, disconnect your outside hose from the spigot and drain it. Invest in a faucet protector to keep the cold air from getting into the pipes. You can buy one for under $10 at the home improvement store. If you have exposed pipes in your basement or garage, make sure you wrap them with insulation to keep them from freezing. Make sure your gutters are cleaned out and free from leaves. Gutters that are clogged will cause water from melting snow to freeze and expand causing them to crack or worse yet, forcing the water in through the foundation. Fixing that problem can be very expensive. If you are unable to clean the gutters yourself, hire it done. It may cost 100 to 200 dollars but it is much cheaper than repairing your foundation or having to buy new gutters. Walk around your house and look for any cracks or gaps around windows and doors. Caulk can close the gaps very inexpensively and can save heat loss and save on your heating bill. If you have old or ill- fitting windows that requires more than a tube of caulk. If replacing them is not in the budget, you can get plastic wrap kits at the home improvement store that can help keep the heat from escaping and cold air from coming in. They...

Renew Your Lease or Buy a Home-How Do You Know It’s Time?

It’s almost time to renew your lease and you have been watching a lot of House Hunters on HGTV. It looks easy enough on TV to buy a house and you think you are ready to take the big step, but how do you know if now is the right time? The very first thing you need to consider is your financial situation. Make an appointment with a local lender to get pre-qualified for a home loan. Resist the urge to jump on a website and get a quick pre-approval on line. This is usually not a complete pre- qualification with a credit check, but rather you plug in a few numbers and they spit a number back at you of how much house you can afford. This is seldom reliable and you certainly won’t be able to ask the questions that you need answered. Local lenders will pre- approve you free of charge and take the time to explain the different loan products that are available and how the process works. This is critical if you are serious about trying to buy a home. It will let you know how much house you can afford so you know you are looking in the correct price range. There is nothing more discouraging than finding your dream house only to discover you can’t afford it. A pre-approval letter also tells Sellers you are qualified to buy their home and puts you in a much better negotiating position. When you speak with a lender, they will look at your income, your current debt load and your credit score. Make sure you...

I Bought a House, Now What Do I Do?

You just closed on your first house. Congratulations! You are now a home owner! After all the excitement of finding your perfect home, navigating the paperwork for the Realtor, the lender and the title company and the exhaustion from packing and moving, now what? Owning a home is a big responsibility and a big investment. You want to protect your investment and get the most out of your new home. Here are some things you should now about home ownership and maintenance. The very first thing you should do after the closing is change the locks. You will get keys at the closing to get you in the home, but how many other people might have keys to your new home? Especially if the home you are buying was a bank owned property or foreclosure, there could be lots of people out there with access to your house. Former owners, landscape people, cleaning people, contractors, realtors or just about anybody else could have keys to your property. For the price of some new locks and a few hours’ time (or better yet, call a locksmith to do it for you), you can have the peace of mind of knowing the only person with keys to your house is You. The next thing you should do is locate your main electrical box and the water main shut off. If you have had a home inspection, the inspector showed you where these things are located and how to shut them off, but if you didn’t have an inspection or need a refresher, locate them now. You should change the furnace filter...

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